HAL should consider changing the name to the Marlborodam. Contrary to almost all other cruise lines HAL allows smoking indoors in Casino when it is an operation. With the open area the smoke drifts into other adjacent areas. We also had the misfortune of having a cabin next to a cigar smoker so our veranda was not a getaway. Finally the rear deck of the Lido deck also allows smoking. Only one side has ashtrays but that does not stop smokers from walking around the entire deck smoking away.
Departure in New York was relatively quick and the baggage arrived in the room before 4. The cabin, a Verandah Suite was spacious for 3 people and provided enough storage spaces for clothes. The problem was a large bulge in the carpet in the middle of the cabin that could cause you to trip. The room stewards were the most capable of the entire crew once they understood what you needed. Also it takes a few days to figure out the light switches.
What we noticed in the next few days was the need for maintenance on the ship. On the Lido deck, the ice machine was out of order the entire trip, the coffee machine was working off and on, a number of bathrooms had equipment that was not working. The ship needs an overhaul to bring it to reasonable standards. Having the crew doing work is a mistake. Whoever did painting on our veranda spilled more on the deck and the lifeboat below.
The food on the ship was significantly below the quality of previous HAL cruise, except for the Pinnacle restaurant where we ate twice. The additional charge is well worth the quality and the service although it was slow on one night. This was a consistent issue on the ship in all dining venues and I think they were running short staffed since a number of entries arrived cold in the MDR. Also the food service staff, outside of the Pinnacle restaurant, had very poor English language skills. This resulted in the wrong meals being served, consistently requiring you to point to the menu for your selection and failing to bring the salad dressing on the side as requested.
Some of us ordered breakfast in the cabin, with the same result. Wrong items, missing items and most importantly a failure to deliver in the specified time were the norms. The ship lets you specify a 30 minute window for delivery. Starting the 3rd day, the breakfast arrived from 15 to 40 minutes early. When we asked why the response was we were too busy in your designated time. The only thing they did early was knock on the door to pick-up the tray early.
How can you depart from NYC and serve lousy bagels? There must have been a special at the cardboard factory since that was the consistency of the bagels. Also the "fresh" fruit was interesting. Do not order sliced bananas on room service menu! I had mystery meat on airplanes, but determining what was in the sushi was a greater challenge since the servers either did not know what you were asking or did not have a clue what was in it. In the pool area, avoid the grill since the hamburgers are precooked (according to a staff member) and then reheated. Also the chips with the "Mexican" buffet were stale and if you are wondering what the taco seasoning is, it is from a large container of Ortega taco sauce.
On sea days you need to get your towel down by 745 if you want to sit by the pool since there are about 80 chaises. The rest of the pool deck has tables that remain empty for most of the cruise except when they serve food at the pool. Also on sea days avoid the pool unless you are traveling with children then they will find plenty of screaming companions. The other problem in the pool area is that you will be asked if you want a drink every 15 minutes. When I asked for a glass of water (not bottle), it never arrived. The pool deck is also used to sell you junk which appeared when you were at sea. This supplemented the effort on Deck 8.
This brings me to the issue of alcohol, I do enjoy wine and cocktails but on this ship it was a constant push from the moment you arrived until the last night to sell you drinks or drink packages. I view the offer of a $19.99 all you can drink rum cocktail at the Hamilton departure party as an encouragement to get drunk in the 2 hour period. The wine packages are a REAL RIP-OFF. The so-called premium package of 3 wines for over $100 featured a list of wines you could buy retail at $9-12 each. The good news on wine is that HAL allows you to bring unlimited amounts on-board at departure. Paying the corkage is a better deal than their wine list and you get to really chose what you want to drink.
The cruise and the assistant cruise directors were both screamers. Typical for a low end ship, there were too many announcements with the focus on selling you alcohol, bingo tickets and other junk. It was clear that the sales of excursions were not doing well. Actually by docking in Hamilton, you could schedule your own trips without paying the ship's markup. One incident occurred to another passenger, which we heard when we were standing in line at ship reception. HAL had cancelled the post trip excursion of NYC due to lack of enough passengers. One couple was trying to get their money back for the entire excursion. The ship said that they would have to still pay for the airport transfer which was still going to leave at 9am. The couple said that their flight was at 8pm so why would they want to spend 10 hours at the airport. HAL said they failed to cancel in time but the couple said you did not cancel the excursion to after that time. CATCH 22 is alive and well at HAL.
The entertainment ranged from poor (HALCats and Street Corner Symphony) to very good (comic, Kevin Jordan). These are our personal reviews but also how long the audience stayed for the performances. HAL should actually listen to the dialogue of Kevin Jordan since he pointed out many of the issues highlighted in this review. He got the greatest applause when he suggested that Formal Nights were just an excuse to get you to buy a photograph. From our cabin to the Pinnacle restaurant we had to walk through 4 separate locations trying to get you to pose. Again there was a language barrier since they did not understand the word NO. Actually I think it was a sales commission barrier.
Actually the greatest criticism belongs to fellow passengers that are unable to control their children. Two examples come to mind. One was the child that ran up and down Deck 9 every morning and afternoon yelling the entire time. You could use her as an alarm clock. The second more interesting one occurred near the movie on the last night. For some reason there was no popcorn available and the child was screaming for popcorn. Rather than controlling the child the father also started screaming about not having any popcorn. My sympathies go to the crew when they have to deal with these types week after week. Finally the vast majority of the children were behaved and it is a credit to these parents.
We heard from a crew member that there was going to be big changes in the crew on the day we docked since there were too many complaints about the ship.